Monthly Archives: August 2015

Accelerated Learning and where it begins

I (Yiola) have been hard at work preparing my teacher education courses. This year was an complete review and reconceptualization of the courses — significant updates to not only the literature but to the ways in which we will explore the content.  I will share some of the changes to the pedagogy of my courses next week. This week I want to start at the start. Where does accelerated begin and how does it begin? I came across this interesting post and wanted to share it here. It is about paperless early years classrooms.

I remember when I taught first and second grade, I seldom used worksheets but I also did have the inquiry-based play either. My pedagogy was somewhere in between. But, truth be know, the teacher across the hall who had a full curriculum of worksheets was often commended for being highly organized and “on the ball” with her program.  I always wondered if that way of teaching was better. Her students, most of them, were learning to read and write. That is another truth. However, were they creative thinkers and problem solvers? Again, another truth, we did not pay much attention to those sorts of skills.  This was but a mere 10 – 15 years ago.

But now, I think we can all agree, that critical thinking and creativity and problem solving are very important skills for children to develop early in life. These skills do not develop from worksheet tasks. The link above talks about this and other inspirational considerations.

And so I share this post to begin at the beginning — play in the early years and how we move forward from there to more sophisticated modes of learning, through the grades and into post secondary teaching. Next week I plan to share some of challenges and questions I faced when reconstructing my courses.

Wearing Technology

I (Cathy) looked up the definition of technology the other day because I had lost track of the meaning outside of my association of technology with computers.  According to, technology is “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry.  This refresher helped me to better grasp the technological clothing my husband has been wearing as of late.

For Father’s Day my husband was given an UnderArmour shirt (from our son-in-law) and challenged to wear it for a day. My husband has been a stanch believer in wearing cotton for many, many years, yet our son-in-law insisted that the new technology in fabric was far advanced in comfort and temperature control. I was intrigued.  Fabric technology?  I had to look it up and found this on the net…

“As a fullback at the University of Maryland, Kevin Plank got tired of having to change out of the sweat-soaked T-shirts worn under his jersey; however, he noticed that his compression shorts worn during practice stayed dry. This inspired him to make a T-shirt using moisture-wicking synthetic fabric.  After graduating from the University of Maryland, Kevin Plank developed his first prototype of the shirt, which he gave to his Maryland teammates and friends who had gone on to play in the NFL. Plank soon perfected the design creating a new T-shirt built from microfibers that wicked moisture and kept athletes cool, dry, and light”

220px-Kevin_Plank_-_UA_photo                                                                                 Kevin Plank

My husband agreed to try the shirt and fell in love with the texture, weight and maintained coolness of this new technologically advanced fabric against his skin. He has several shirts now and is looking at other forms of apparel.  My husband may not be up to date in computer technology, but he is sure ‘in’ when it comes to fabric technology.

My new awareness of technological fabric has given me pause to reconsider what technological advances are in store for us in education that are not computer based.  What will change?  Desks?  Art materials?  Windows?  Will the entire classroom environment transform?  Will we dress differently as a result of technology?  The possibilities are endless… and exciting.


Intertwining Digital Technology Into Literacy Methods Courses

Pooja and I (Clare) did an analysis of 6 literacy teacher educators who truly intertwined digital technology into their literacy methods courses. (Book chapter will be published soon and we will post that info.) In the meantime I thought this chart might be useful for literacy teacher educators who are preparing for the upcoming school year.

Overall Goal: Teaching 2.0
Specific Goals Example
Make literacy classes participatory ·      Post comments on each other’s work (e.g., Wall Wisher, Text tagging, Voice Thread)

·      Post comments in asynchronous time

·      Provide student teachers with feedback on-line and encourage them to respond to the feedback

·      During class student teachers post questions or contribute comments to a shared space

·      Before class student teachers post comments about the readings

·      Create Wordles when analyzing a text

Create an infrastructure for accessing resources and for sharing resources ·      Develop a repository of resources on a university platform (e.g., Blackboard) or on their own website

·      Share books, videos, websites on a class Wiki

·      Use DT tools (e.g., Smartboard) to access info on the spot while teaching

·      Access materials/videos for use in teaching (e.g., Globe Theatre productions of Shakespearean plays)

Provide authentic learning experiences ·      Student teachers make an iMovie on a specific topic (e.g., on bullying)

·      Analyze videos student teachers created during their practice teaching

·      Skype with authors they are reading

·      Participate in teacher communities by contributing to blogs and Twitter feeds

·      Participate in teacher-focused events (e.g., contribute a piece to a BBC competition on current affairs/news)

·      Student teachers create podcasts on an aspect of literacy to share with broader community

·      Watch videos of authors they are reading (both scholarly articles and children’s literature)

·      Student teachers post photographs of themselves on the university platform as a way to introduce themselves to their classmates

Gain an understanding of the increasingly globalized nature of literacy

·      View videos from other countries (e.g., teachers in Japan) to see similarities and differences with their own context

·      Participate in world-wide teacher communities

·      Participate in crowd-sourcing

·      Share statistics on literacy beyond home country

·      Use visual representations (e.g., photographs) to move student teachers beyond their immediate world to unpack a range of issues (e.g., gender representation in children’s literature)

Reframe issues related to literacy and literacy teaching ·      Watch videos of teaching (exemplary or poor practice) and analyze them

·      Use videos from their practice teaching classes as “data” for their inquiry projects

·      Student teachers select a picture from a photo array and relate the action in the photograph to a theory they have been working on

Bridge practice teaching and the academic program ·      Reflect on practice teaching by sharing and analyzing photographs/videos they took

·      Use email and social media to remain connected during practice teaching and as a place for student teachers to ask questions or share concerns

·      Create a video case study of pupils which relates to a theory of literacy

We also created a graphic to capture the elements of their pedagogy:

Literacy Graphci

Their courses were fundamentally different because they had truly reconceptualized their teaching, not simply tinkering by adding glitzy DT; rather, they constructed highly participatory experiences that occurred before, during, and after the official 3-hour class. Learning occurred in multiple ways: readings, f2f discussions, online communities, viewing, analyzing, and providing feedback on texts which immersed student teachers into the issues of literacy. It went far beyond introducing “methods” to teach literacy; it was framed by learning to teach literacy as a global citizen. This ambitious goal was matched with unparalleled support by the professors. Their multimodal/technology-rich teaching practices modeled the possibilities available to teachers and students; however, they were constantly trying to balance preparing student teachers to address the traditional forms of literacy, which they will probably observe in schools, with more expansive understandings. They had not discarded typical elements of literacy methods courses such as teaching the writing process or components of a balanced literacy program.

The Smartest Kids in the World And How They Got That Way: An Exploration of the Schools in PISAs top Achieving Countries

1307-toch-white_bk_article  My (Yiola) summer has been filled with reading, writing, and a lot of play with my two young children.  From Curious George to Jane Yolan, we covered a lot of ground… and then there was some time for me. One of the texts I read this summer was an interesting report by journalist Amanda Ripley. In her book, The smartest kids in the world and how they got that way Ripley tracks three American high school students who went on exchange to three of the top performing PISA countries: Finland, Korea, and Poland.  What I like about the text is that the three countries Ripley selects could not be more different in culture, and systems.

While there is much controversy about the PISA test and its effects, the details outlined in the book are interesting and insightful. I found the following key points interesting:

The countries that score high on PISA value academic and take academic learning seriously:

“The question then was not what other countries were doing, but why. Why did these countries have this consensus around rigor? In the education superpowers, every child knew the importance of an education. These countries had experienced national failure in recent memory; they knew what an existential crisis felt like. In many U.S. schools, however, the priorities were muddled beyond recognition. Sports were central to American students’ lives and school cultures in a way in which they were not in most education superpowers. Exchange students agreed almost universally on this point. Nine out of ten international students I surveyed said that U.S. kids placed a higher priority on sports, and six out of ten American exchange students agreed with them. Even in middle school, other researchers had found, American students spent double the amount of time playing sports as Koreans.”

Countries whose students who did well on the PISA value early childhood education:

“In most countries, attending some kind of early childhood program (i.e., preschool or prekindergarten) led to real and lasting benefits. On average, kids who did so for more than a year scored much higher in math by age fifteen (more than a year ahead of other students).”

Parental involvement IS important:

“Parents who read to their children weekly or daily when they were young raised children who scored twenty-five points higher on PISA by the time they were fifteen years old. That was almost a full year of learning. More affluent parents were more likely to read to their children almost everywhere, but even among families within the same socioeconomic group, parents who read to their children tended to raise kids who scored fourteen points higher on PISA. By contrast, parents who regularly played with alphabet toys with their young children saw no such benefit.”

What I appreciated the most when reading the book was the message that teachers in the high scoring countries are deeply valued members of society. From university admissions through to classroom practice, teachers are carefully selected, very well educated, and they maintain high standards in their practice.

I like the contrasts it provides between nations that have high test scores. As I read I kept comparing Canada, and more specifically the Ontario context to the countries (mainly Finland) and was feeling rather optimistic about the direction we are going.

Technology vs Attention

lap top for pet owners_n

A friend of mine (Cathy) is a writer and she frequently complains about her darling cat sitting on her key board, especially when she has a deadline to meet.  The cartoon above reminded me of her, yet I doubt her cat would accept the new lap top model depicted.  I not not so sure it’s about closeness as it is about the attention.  Looking.  Listening.  Touching.  Speaking. I once tried to read  book while bottle feeding my son and he fussed and cried until I put it away.    At six months he knew where my attention was, and it wasn’t on him.  Holding him wasn’t enough.  Feeding him wasn’t enough.  That was our time and the book was cheating him.  I was amazed he could register that at such a young age.  It was a good lesson.   After that, I saved my reading for when he was napping.   I’m sure my friend’s cat would know too.   Although I was amused by the cartoon, I also saw it as a warning.  Our devices are seductive;  our lives are busy and demanding; but I’m not so sure we really get ahead by multitasking when it comes to attending to the ones we love.

Creating Interactive Content

I recently learned about a useful digital technology app I am sure I will be using this upcoming school year. Riddle is an app which let’s you easily and quickly create:

  • opinion polls
  • lists
  • quizzes
  • personality tests
  • commenticles (commenting on articles)

Riddle allows you to customize your content by adding images,YouTube videos, animated gifs, articles from the web, personal photos, etc. Once your interactive social content (opinion poll, list, quiz, test, commenticle) is created, there are several ways to share it. You can embed the content into your own blog or website. Or you could e-mail the link out to your class. You can also share your created content through Facebook or Twitter.

I spent 30 minutes playing around on this site and came up with so many great ideas on how to use it in my classroom. Using the opinion polls, I will create an ice-breaker activity and e-mail it out to my class and show the results on the first day of class. Also, if I want my class to discuss an article, I will use the commenticle feature. Below is a commenticle I made on Riddle:

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 11.39.34 AM

To learn more about RIddle and make your own interactive content this school year, check out the link:

Why I Can No Longer Teach in Public Education

Stephanie Keiles wrote this powerful letter on why she can no longer teach in public education. It is a true indictment of public education in the U. S. We cannot and should not be losing teachers like Stephanie. I (Clare) would recommend that you have a hankie or two available as you read it! Share it with public officials.


Posted: 08/12/2015 8:35 am EDT Updated: 08/12/2015 8:59 am EDT

I am sitting here in my lovely little backyard on a beautiful Michigan summer day, drinking a Fat Tire Amber Ale, and crying. I am in tears because today I made one of the hardest decisions of my life: I resigned from my job as a public school teacher. A job I didn’t want to leave — but I had to.

A little background. I didn’t figure out that I wanted to be a math teacher until I was 28. As a kid I was always told I was “too smart” to be a teacher, so I went to business school instead. I lasted one year in the financial world before I knew it was not for me. I read a quote from Millicent Fenwick, the (moderate) Republican Congresswoman from my home state of New Jersey, where she said that the secret to happiness was doing something you enjoyed so much that what was in your pay envelope was incidental.

I quit my job as an analyst at a large accounting firm determined to find my passion. I floundered for a while, and then eventually got married and decided I would be a stay-at-home mom, but only until my kids were in school. Then I would need to find that passion.

I was pregnant with my oldest child, sitting on a sofa in Stockholm, Sweden, when I had my epiphany: I would be a math teacher — a middle school math teacher! I thought about it and it fit my criteria perfectly. No, I wasn’t thinking about the pension, or the “part-time” schedule, or any of the other gold-plated benefits that ignorant people think we go into the profession for. Two criteria: I would enjoy it, and I would be good at it.

Nine years and four kids later, I enrolled in Eastern Michigan University’s Post-Baccalaureate teacher certification program, and first stepped into my own classroom at the age of 40. I was teaching high school, because that’s where I had my first offer, and I was given five classes of kids who were below grade-level in math. And I still loved it.

I knew I had found my calling.

After three years, I switched districts to be closer to home and to teach middle school, where I belonged. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven! I was hired to teach in my district’s Talented and Gifted program, so I had two classes of 8th graders who were taking Honors Geometry, and three classes of general 8th grade math.

This coming year, I was scheduled to have five sections of Honors Geometry — all my students would be two, and sometimes three, years advanced in math. I was also scheduled to have my beloved first hour planning period, and I was excited to work with a new group of kids on Student Council. It was looking to be a great year — and I’m still walking away.

My friends, in real life and on Facebook, know what a huge supporter of public schools I am. I am a product of public schools, and my children are the products of public schools. Public education is the backbone of democracy, and we all know there is a corporatization and privatization movement trying to undermine it.

I became an activist after Gov. Rick Snyder and his Republican goons took over Michigan and declared war on teachers. I am part of a group called Save Michigan’s Public Schools. Two years ago, we put on a rally for public education at the Capitol steps that drew over 1,000 people from all over the state with just three weeks’ notice and during summer break.

I have testified in front of the Michigan House Education Committee against lifting the cap on charter schools, and also against Common Core. I attended both NPE conferences to meet with other activists and bring back ideas to my compadres in Michigan. I have been fighting for public education for five years now, and will continue to do so.

But I just can’t work in public education anymore.

Coming from the Republicans at the state level and the Democrats at the national level, I have been forced to comply with mandates that are not in the best interest of kids. I am tired of having to perform what I consider to be educational malpractice, in the name of “accountability.”

The amount of time lost to standardized tests that are of no use to me as a classroom teacher is mind-boggling. And when you add in mandatory quarterly district-wide tests, which are used to collect data that nothing is ever done with, it’s beyond ridiculous.

Sometimes I feel like I live in a Kafka novel.

Number one on my district’s list of how to close the achievement gap and increase learning? Making sure that all teachers have their learning goals posted every day in the form of an “I Can” statement. I don’t know how we ever got to be successful adults when we had no “I Can” statements on the wall. (sarcasm)

In addition, due to a chronic, purposeful underfunding of public schools here in Michigan, my take-home pay has been frozen or decreased for the past five years, and I don’t see the situation getting any better in the near future. No, I did not go into teaching for the money, but I also did not go into teaching to barely scrape by, either.

As a 10th-year teacher in my district, I would be making 16 percent less than a 10th-year was when I was hired in 2006. Plus, I now have to pay for medical benefits, and 3 percent of my pay is taken out to fund current retiree health care, which has been found unconstitutional for all state employees except teachers. And I’m being asked to contribute more to my pension.

Financial decisions were made based on anticipated future income that never materialized, for me and for thousands and thousands of other public school teachers. The thought of any teacher having to take a second job to support him/herself at any point in his/her career is disgusting to me, yet that’s what I was contemplating doing. At 53, with a master’s degree and twelve years of experience.

If I were poorly compensated but didn’t have to comply with asinine mandates and a lack of respect, that would be one thing.

And if I were continuing my way up the pay scale but had to deal with asinine mandates, that would be one thing. But having to comply with asinine mandates and watching my income, in the form of real dollars, decline every year? When I have the choice to teach where I will be better compensated and all educational decisions will be made by experienced educators? And I will be treated with respect? Bring it on.

So as of today I have officially resigned from my district, effective August 31, which is when I will start my new job as a middle school math teacher at an independent school. I am looking forward to being treated like a professional, instead of a child, and I’m pretty sure I will never hear the words, “We can’t afford to give you a raise”, or worse (as in the past two years), “You’re going to have to take a pay cut.” I am looking forward to not having to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on classroom supplies. And the free lunch, catered by a local upscale market, will be pretty sweet, too.

I will miss my colleagues more than you could ever know, especially my math girls and my Green Hall buddies. It really breaks my heart to leave such a wonderful group of people. In fact, it’s pretty devastating. But I have to do what’s best for me in the long run, and the thought of making more money and teaching classes of 15 instead of 34, and especially not having to deal with all the BS, was too much to refuse.

I will always be there to fight for public education. I just can’t teach in it.

Unlearning in Teacher Education


As a literacy teacher educator, do you feel you spend a lot of time encouraging your student teachers to forget what they have previously learned?  Lortie (1975) refers to the perceptions of teaching our student teachers developed (as elementary and secondary school students) as an  “apprenticeship-of-observation”. Lortie suggests “education students have spent years assessing teachers and many enter training with strong perceptions based on firm identifications” and maintains that these strong perceptions affect student teachers’ “pedagogical decision-making”.  This makes unlearning as important as learning.  How do you get your student teachers to unlearn?

Lortie, D. C. (1975). Schoolteacher. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press.


So You Want to be a Writer!

Most of the readers of this blog are writers. I (Clare) no matter how much I write, I still smith0809-01finding writing hard. It takes LOTS of work. Although we tend to write for academic audiences an article by Russell Smith in the Globe and Mail resonated with me. Titled – So You Want to Be a Writer has some useful advice.

Here is the link to the entire article:

I listed his six pieces of advice and # 6 is probably the most important! For all doctoral students “bum in chair” is very important.

  1. Stop thinking about the business side of it
  2. Don’t worry about someone stealing your idea
  3. Don’t get too much feedback

Your aunt and your high-school English teacher are going to have very different ideas about what makes a great novel. Listen to both of them and you will be no further ahead.

  1. Don’t self-publish

Again, genre writers – in sci-fi, mystery and romance – have had much greater luck with self-publishing because they are already participants in large online communities and so already have audiences. The vanity presses that promise you they will market and promote your literary book are sharks; nobody reads their press releases. Don’t give them your money. Don’t think you can build an audience just by acquiring Facebook friends.

  1. When submitting your manuscript to agents or publishers, remember that nothing counts except what is actually written in your bundle of pages – not endorsements from bloggers, not courses you have taken, not possible cover designs. The professionals will skim through all those and start reading the first page of the manuscript. By page five they will know if you are an actual writer or not.
  2. Bum in chair This is still the most accurate and useful description of how to write a book. You must occupy that chair until it is written. Even in the world of phone-novels and tweet-novels and ghost-written memoirs, somebody has to worry for many, many hours about the difference between that and which and the appropriate use of metaphor. Somebody has to sit in the chair.